More than 7,500 people from around Ohio made their way to Cleveland last weekend for the area's 12th annual gay pride celebration. For some in the gay and lesbian community, coming out to a celebration of their sexual preference can also leave them vulnerable to those who disagree with their lifestyle. 90.3's Yolanda Perdomo reports on safety issues affecting that community.
Yolanda Perdomo- Rain showers throughout the day didn't dampen the spirit of the festivities. Hundreds of people gathered near cars en route to the festival. A flatbed truck carried several same sex couples and a minister officiating over their ceremony. They were surrounded by hundreds of people carrying or wearing rainbow striped flags, t-shirts, and anything else symbolizing gay pride. But this freedom of expression has come at a price for some. Marching in the parade, twirling a pole with ribbons of rainbow colors, Zachary Singer says he was assaulted only a month ago just for being gay.
Zachary Singer- Some gentlemen came up to me, told me he was an undercover cop, and proceeded to frisk me, took all my money, and then beat me up. I had some bruises on my back, a cut in my head. And I identified the gentleman, the police have arrested him, and we're just waiting to go to trial right now.
YP- Singer thinks that if more gays and lesbians came out of the closet, it would reduce the number incidents like that of Matthew Sheppard, the gay college student who was brutally murdered in Wyoming in 1998. Even though the U.S. Senate narrowly passed a hate crimes bill earlier this month - which now includes homosexuals in its protections - gay bashings continue. The Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization monitors hate crimes throughout the state. Last year 214 incidents were reported. That included everything from vandalism and bomb threats to physical assaults.
While Singer reported his attack, more often than not gays and lesbians don't tell the police if they're a victim of a gay bashing, says Jennifer Kruger. She's an information manager at the lesbian and gay center of greater Cleveland and keeps a tab on incidents of hate crimes in her community. Last year she took 10 - 15 reports, and those included everything from verbal harassments to physical assaults. Kruger says those numbers are only the tip of the iceberg.
Jennifer Kruger- I think many times people, they'll look at the incident, and they'll compare it to something like Matthew Sheppard and say 'it wasn't that bad' and so they won't report it. 'Well, I only got hit in the face'. Or 'I wasn't stabbed or I wasn't having to seek medical attention'. And for some people, that's a way to rationalize the incident. The people may not be out in all aspects of their life. So there is this risk if they do file this police report, it becomes a matter of public record. How does that affect; they have to keep into consideration, will their families find out. If they're not out at all, and it happens around a gay and lesbian institution, such as a bar or the center, then that opens up a whole can of worms that they have to explain why they were there.
YP- An outreach coordinator at the AIDS Task Force, who only wants to be identified as "Dave," believes that his sexual preference was the sole reason behind his assault a month ago. He was walking down the street with his arm around his boyfriend. Two men punched them in the face and head. Dave says the whole thing happened so fast (that) he couldn't describe his attackers later.
Dave- They had the last laugh I guess. They punched us and got away with it. We didn't do anything about it, kind of like you wanted to get back at them. But you couldn't. Sometimes I get really angry about it. It's just kind of embarrassing. We were degraded, and there's nothing we can do.
YP- Jennifer Kruger of the Lesbian and Gay Center of Cleveland says reporting it to the police whenever possible helps them get the numbers they need to work on legislation that assures some type of legal protection. The state of Ohio has an ethnic intimidation law protecting minorities against hate crimes. But that law does not include sexual orientation. In Cleveland, Yolanda Perdomo, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.